Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely (Part 1)
Written for www.ARPACanada.ca by James Zekveld: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Few thoughts encapsulate the history of human political action more. Without the seemingly natural devolvement from power to corruption, old empires might still exist, poverty might have ended long ago and communism might be a legitimate though unnecessary option in the world today. Power among Christians is hardly an exception to this rule. Two questions present themselves. How do we overcome corruption and how do we minimize the potential for corruption? The second will be left for a later article. The first is answered through an understanding of the order God has put into this world. To keep ourselves from corruption we must have a rightly ordered love; love that God has placed into the world from the beginning, when He created the world.
All sin is derived from self love and pride. Eve took the fruit and Adam ate with her because both of them wanted to be like God. All sinners have an aim. They want to gain something for themselves by their sin. The closer one comes to the immediate satisfaction of one’s own personal needs rather than those of the community or some other entity, the closer the power-holder is to corruption. The farther a man is away from the centre of power, the more his aims must be for others in order to get what he himself wants.
Let us imagine a man, a common man far away from power and far away from the things that give power (i.e. money, position, family). This man works hard to gain money and through money, power. He develops the skills needed for power, such as rhetoric. He happens to be in a country ruled by an incredibly corrupt government. The laws of the land, whether good or bad are not being carried out, even minimally and those with money easily buy their way out of any bad situation. The man realizes that this is not fair. He has worked hard for a living and has never bribed his way into anything. Therefore he starts a reform.
It so happens that many of the people in his country agree with him and the reform is successful. Now he, who was so far away from power, has come to the center of power. He tries to instill his thinking into the mind of his son and those around him. But those around, having achieved what they want, see a much easier way to be successful, a way, which, due to their power, has little immediate consequence. Because of their money and their position they are free to do what they want. The more absolute the position received the more freedom received. The cycle comes to its end again; corruption. This cycle of corruption is evident through all history, varying in length, but never ceasing to destroy its empires and its kingdoms.
So how do we as Christians overcome this when we enter into or work in the field of politics? Our mission is clear, we need to take dominion for Christ, but our sinful nature still tends toward corruption. The simple answer; trust in Christ. The more complicated answer; develop a life of rightly ordered love.
The whole story of corruption is wrongly-ordered love. Self-love and pride are the root; whether that be the love of praise for one’s self or immediate gratification for one’s self. Even men who are constantly worried about the corruption that they see in government and would never let such corruption rule their own lives are basically ruled by self-love. They look for the praise of men in their desires or they look for a world where their interests and their ideas of justice can be implemented. They are blind to their own foolishness and the roots of corruption in themselves.
When one becomes a Christian this self-love is turned on his head. Love of God comes first, and then love of neighbor. Only the man who has this rightly-ordered love can truly rule without corruption. Putting others first, service to his neighbor and to his God will come before any thought of self in the power that he holds. This is antithetical to the wisdom of the world, which says that, in ruling a nation, one should look for the immediate interests of the nation and self. No! One looks for the interests of God first and then the interests of men that are best wrapped up in the plans of God.
This does not mean that any man who has rightly ordered love can rule or even should rule. There is an art to ruling that a man must learn. A man can love rightly and still be ignorant of the political arts. What we as Christians need to develop is an art of ruling that is in accord with the dictates of the love of God. What this means is a continual training of ourselves and our children in every art. We need Renaissance men and Renaissance women. We cannot hide ourselves away in little enclaves. We need to burst forth and “wow” the world with what Christendom has to offer.
The temptation of corruption and self-love has destroyed many empires before us and it is currently destroying the west. To turn that around we need rightly-ordered love; a love the puts God and others before ourselves. Of course Christians have not and will not reach perfection on this earth. Therefore we need to build balances into our political systems. Of course many of the greatest empires had such balances built into their systems, including the west today, but we are losing those balances due to the old cycle of corruption. What we need is a reform that builds on and completes the inheritance our spiritual fathers have left for us.